Oliver Cromwell and the Whitehall Conference
on the Readmission of Jews to England
The following is excerpted from The Parliamentary or Constitutional History of England (c. 1763), Volume XX, pages 473-477. It addresses the Whitehall Conference of December 1655 which was called by Oliver Cromwell to consider readmission of the Jews to England. All Jews had been expelled from England by King Edward I in 1290 A.D.
But leaving these foreign affairs, the bare mention whereof is sufficient for our purpose, since they are so amply discussed by the general historians; we shall look into a matter of a domestic nature, that happened the latter end of this year, which has been wholly passed over by some writers, and grossly misrepresented by others, though it gave the greatest alarm to the whole nation. This was a treaty between Cromwell and the Jews, who applied for leave to settle in his dominions. We shall first give the account of this affair, as published by authority [i.e., the official government record]; and then add such further particulars as our collections afford us upon the subject.
The narrative, published by order of Cromwell and his Council:
Whitehall, December 4
Diverse eminent ministers of the nation, having been called hither by letter from the Lord-Protector, were present with his Highness and the Council in the council-chamber; when the following proposals, made by certain Jews, of whom Rabbi Manassah Ben lsrael of Amsterdam, was the chief, were read to them:
“These are the graces and favours which, in the name of my Hebrew nation, I Manassah Ben Israel do request of your Most Serene Highness, whom God make prosperous, and give happy success to, in all your enterprises, as your humble servant doth wish and desire.
1. The first thing I desire of your Highness is that our Hebrew nation may be received and admitted into this puissant Commonwealth, under the protection and safeguard of your Highness, even as the natives themselves. And, for greater security in time to come, I do supplicate your Highness to cause an oath to be given (if you shall think it fit) to all the heads and generals of arms to defend us upon all occasions.
2. That it will please your Highness to allow us public synagogues, not only in England, but also in all other places under the power of your Highness: and to observe in all things our religion, as we ought.
3. That we may have a place, or cemetery, out of the town to bury our dead, without being troubled by any.
4. That we may be permitted to traffic freely in all sort of merchandise, as others.
5. That (to the end those who shall come may be for the utility of the people of this nation, and may live without bringing prejudice to any, and not give offence) your Most Serene Highness will make choice of a person of quality, to inform himself of and receive the passports of those who shall come in; who, upon their arrival, shall certify him thereof, and oblige themselves, by oath, to maintain fealty to your Highness in this land.
6. And (to the intent they may not be troublesome to the judges of the land, touching the contests and differences that may arise betwixt those of our nation) that your Most Serene Highness will give licence to the head of the synagogue, to take with him two Almoners of his nation to accord and determine all the differences and process, conformable to the Mosaic Law; with liberty, nevertheless, to appeal from their sentence to the civil judges; the sum wherein the parties shall be condemned being first deposited.
7. That in case there have been any laws against our Jewish nation, they may, in the first place, and before all things, be revoked; to the end that, by this means, we may remain with the greater security under the safeguard and protection of your Most Serene Highness.
Which things your Most Serene Highness granting to us, we shall always remain most affectionately obliged to pray to God for the prosperity of your Highness, and of your illustrious and sage Council, that it will please him to give happy success to all the undertakings of your Most Serene Highness. Amen.”
The ministers having heard these proposals read, desired time to consider of them, and the next day was spent in prayer and fasting.
December 7. This day, in the afternoon, a conference was held with the ministers about these proposals, in the presence of his Highness the Lord-Protector, the Lord-President Laurence, Lord Lambert, Lord Fiennes, and divers more of the Council, with the Lord Chief Justice Glynn, and the Lord Chief Baron Steel. Of the ministers there were Dr. Thomas Goodwin, Dr. Wilkinson, Dr. Tuckney, Mr. Manton, Mr. Nye, Mr. Bridge, and many others; but nothing being concluded on, another conference was appointed to be held on Wednesday. Accordingly,
December 12. The conference was renewed in a withdrawing-room in the presence of the Lord-Protector, where a committee of the Council were met by the greatest part of the ministers and other persons, approved by his Highness to take the said proposals into consideration; but nothing then resolved upon.
December 14. There was another conference on the same subject. And,
December 18. The committee broke up without coming to any resolution, or even a further adjournment.
The [official government] narrative concludes with this remark,
That his Highness, at these several meetings, fully heard the opinions of the ministers touching the said proposals; expressing himself thereupon with indifference and moderation, as one that desired only to obtain satisfaction in a Matter of so high and religious a concernment; there being many glorious promises recorded in Holy Scripture, concerning the calling and conversion of the Jews to the faith of Christ: But the reason why nothing was concluded upon was, because his Highness proceeded in this, as in all other affairs, with good advice and mature deliberation.”
Thus far by authority. [i.e., the end of the official record]
We shall next proceed to inquire how this proposal was received by the public: The indefatigable and resolute Mr. [William] Prynne published a very zealous remonstrance against it:* The aim of which was to show that permitting the Jews to reside in England, according to the foregoing proposals, was highly criminal; as being the greatest affront offered to the Son of God, the Author of our redemption, that any Christian government could be guilty of: That for Cromwell to grant the Jews the public exercise of their religion, when he and his Council had so lately passed an ordinance prohibiting thousands of Christian ministers from preaching the gospel, for no other reason than their having formerly adhered to the royal party, was, in the highest degree, both unreasonable and unjust: That the argument urged for admission of the Jews upon a hope of their being converted to Christianity by their residence in England, was a mere pretense to cover another design, that of bringing a large sum of money into the Protector’s coffers: In short, our author does not scruple to compare this intended bargain with the execrable proposal made by Simon Magus to the apostles.
* The footnote below is given on pages 476-477 in reference to Prynne’s book.
The title page of this elaborate performance runs thus: A short demurrer to the Jews long discontinued remitter into England: Comparing an exact chronological relation of their first admission into, their ill deportment, misdemeanors, condition, sufferings, oppressions, slaughters, plunders by popular insurrections, and regal exactions, and their total, final banishment, by judgment and edict of parliament, out of England, never to return again. Collected out of the best historians. With a brief collection of such laws and scriptures, as seem strongly to plead and conclude against their readmission into England, especially at this season, and against the general calling of the Jewish nation. With an answer to the chief allegations for their introduction.
Cromwell’s view in the before-mentioned expedition against Hispaniola seems to have been founded upon the pleasing prospect of gaining so vast a plunder from the Spaniards, as to be able, for the future, to govern without parliaments, and his failure in that attempt induced him to give audience to the Jewish deputies, who, as some contemporaries write, offered him £200,000 to carry their proposals into execution. But the ministers appointed to attend at the conference held in the Council chamber on that occasion, dissenting from the Protector’s project, and finding himself daily attacked by pasquinades from the press, he thought it prudent to desist from this rabbinical treaty.
See the original pages here.